Is anger a productive emotion?
- The APA defines anger as 'an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong.'
- A 2018 Statista study reported that 32% of Americans aged 15-29 felt angry 'a lot,' while the percentage of those over 50 years of age who felt the same was halved.
- Considered a pioneer in the study of emotions and facial expressions, American psychologist Paul Ekman classified anger as a primary human emotion in the 1970s with his list of six basic emotions: happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise, and anger.
- MayoClinic suggests that we can choose to deal with anger through either “expression, suppression, or calming down,” adding that the ideal way is through “constructive expression.”
Clinical psychologist Schekeva Hall considers anger to be among the most misunderstood emotions. She argues that anger can still function as a productive feeling if its energies are channeled correctly. Psychologist Mitch Abblett also echoes this notion, noting that the sensations we experience when angry give us the “emotional fuel needed” to stand up for ourselves and take action.
Anger has also been shown to lead to greater creativity. Studies show that, in tasks that require brainstorming, angry people tend to come up with “more original and varied solutions” compared to those experiencing other emotions. It is believed that the increased arousal we get from anger can supercharge the mind, helping us form connections that would be harder to reach with other emotional states.
It has also been proven that anger can boost athletic performance. There is now firm evidence that rage can result in a burst of strength. In one experiment, sports scientists in the UK found that athletes who were asked to imagine an annoying scenario in their heads were likely to channel their frustration into exercise and see an improvement in performance compared to those who felt more neutral. In another study, researchers at Bangor University found that anger improved the performance of boxers by 25%. They noted that anger worked as an effective performance tool when released into “a high energy task such as kicking or punching.”
Therefore, though anger tends to be linked with aggression, it can still be considered an asset to those of us who have learned to utilize it correctly.
Mental health professionals classify anger as a negative emotion. When people are angry, their thinking can quickly become clouded, and they can become mentally and physically harmful. Holding onto excessive anger can be deeply problematic, leading to serious, even life-threatening health problems and conditions. Those who identify as angry generally wish to become free of their anger, and treatments like therapy and anger management are frequently used, employing language like 'cope' and 'struggle.'
Getting angry can be hurtful and actually impede effective communication. For instance, becoming angry with a small child or animal often backfires, undermining the intended lesson. Further, behaving angrily can damage one's relationships, reputation, and career. Anger negatively affects sleep, increases the frequency of traffic accidents and near-accidents, and can lead to violent crime and abuse. Moreover, fits of rage tend to be followed by deep regret and remorse, indicating their acknowledged counter-productivity.
Anger comes in several different forms, with an array of causes and responses, which prevent a simple label from being applied universally to these countless, distinct representations. Specifically, how individuals process anger can have myriad outcomes. For example, one person may channel fiery anger into motivation to stage a peaceful protest, while another could potentially funnel said anger into an act of terrorism.
Ultimately, transforming one's anger into positive change is not an easy task, and as remarked by great thinkers such as Aristotle: 'Anybody can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody's power, and is not easy.'